Ex-Redskin can relate to Bills’ Everett

By Joe Versage  |   Saturday, September 15, 2007  |  Comments( 1 )

Washington Redskins
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Washington Redskins fans may be familiar with offensive lineman Ross Tucker. The NFL journeyman was among the last men cut from the team during the summer. But Tucker's preseason release was not necessarily because of performance. Instead, it was caused by a single play that ultimately changed his life forever.

On the opening kickoff of a game in late August, Tucker prepared for battle, with a rush of adrenaline and a feeling of invincibility. But as the kick-coverage unit descended upon him, the play suddenly came to a screeching halt, with a numbing sensation and a feeling of helplessness.

Tucker's experience was strikingly similar to that of another player, in Buffalo, N.Y. But the consequences were quite different. Tucker shook off his injury and walked to the sidelines, while the athlete in Buffalo did not.

Coincidentally, Tucker is an ex-teammate of Kevin Everett, the Bills tight end who suffered a spinal-cord injury while making a special teams tackle in Buffalo's season opener. Initially, Everett was in grave danger, as doctors predicted permanent paralysis and possible loss of life. But in recent days, he has shown numerous signs of recovery and may miraculously walk again.

Tucker is obviously ecstatic to hear of Everett's improvement, but he remains haunted by the collisions that he and Everett endured.

Originally signed by Washington as an undrafted free agent in 2001, Tucker returned to the Redskins in March as the team tried to find a replacement for departed left guard Derrick Dockery. Ironically, the Bills lured Dockery away from Washington with a seven-year, $49 million deal. He then had the opportunity to play with Everett in Buffalo's offense.

Meanwhile, Tucker's dream of making Washington's 53-man roster was shattered when he fell to the turf at FedEx Field. During the weather-shortened exhibition with Baltimore, the Princeton grad was scheduled to play on Washington's special teams unit. But the anxiousness that often accompanies the role was heightened as Tucker suffered a neck stinger during pre-game warm-ups. In an article he contributed to SI.com, Tucker relived what happened next in his own words.

"As the 'wedge-setter'' on the kickoff-return team, the collisions between the wedge and the wedge breakers are some of the most vicious in football," said Tucker. "It takes a special person to want to perform these duties. And I don't mean "special" in a good way, either. You have to either crave physical contact, be a little crazy, or maybe a combination of both."

Against the Ravens, Tucker was part of a four-man wedge that was responsible for forming a wall to run toward the opposition.

"Not many people in the world know what it's like to see a 240-pound man who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash bearing down at you on a 50-yard dead sprint. I got as low as possible right before impact," he said.

The contact with Baltimore's Prescott Burgess left Tucker numb for a frightening number of seconds.

"It was one of the best bad feelings I ever had, because the pain was offset by the fact that we crushed our guy," Tucker pointed out. "We did our job to perfection."

But the news that Tucker received from doctors jolted him. Instead of a pinched nerve, he sustained what is known as 'cervical spine injury', a condition that can be paralyzing in some cases. Tucker plans to undergo surgery soon and doctors have advised him to call it quits on a seven-year NFL career. Despite the diagnosis, Tucker has no neurological damage and should have a good quality of life outside of football. Buffalo's Everett may not be as fortunate.

"When I heard the TV report (about Kevin), I turned to my wife and we communicated without saying a word," said Tucker. "The news left us both shaken."

As a tight end that excelled at special teams, Everett was a valuable player for the Bills. But the former University of Miami standout was similar to many athletes who vie for a spot on a pro roster. Like a large number of them, Everett was an offensive player who was inexperienced at making tackles.

"One of my first thoughts -- aside from the initial concern over his health -- had to do with the fact that Kevin is a tight end," said Tucker. "That's the reality of the NFL with a 45-man active roster on game days. Guys who haven't played defense since high school, if ever, are forced to make impact tackles at the professional level."

Everett's latest progress has had a calming effect on the Tuckers, who are holding out hope for a full recovery. It also has brought a renewed sense of spirit to players and fans, many of whom have reached out to show their support.

Washington linebacker Rocky McIntosh and rookie Chicago tight end Greg Olsen were Everett's teammates at the University of Miami. Both spoke highly of his quiet and unassuming personality. Meanwhile, current Bill and former Redskins tight end Robert Royal visited Everett at Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital in Buffalo.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also paid a visit to Everett's bedside.

"For someone to take that time to come out and actually understand that there are some things in life that are bigger than football -- for him to show up and support Kevin and his family -- that's tremendous," Royal told ESPN.

Upon hearing the news that Everett was off life support and moving his limbs, Denver receiver Domenik Hixon breathed a sigh of relief. Hixon was the Bronco returner who collided with Everett and prayed to God for his healing.

"That just brought a smile to my face," said Hixon. "Prayers were answered -- the power of prayers."

And while Everett strives to return to his feet, one of his strongest supporters will remain.

"Besides being a teammate of Kevin's, we have several things in common," Tucker wrote in a second editorial published on SI.com. "We first met in his rookie year in Buffalo in 2005."

During that year, the two spent time together in Buffalo's training rooms. Tucker was in rehabilitation after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Meanwhile, Everett was rehabbing from an ACL tear that he sustained during the very first practice of his NFL career.

"When Kevin was injured in '05, I was struck by how well he dealt with a significant setback," said Tucker. "I was also struck by what a genuinely good guy he was."

And if they come face to face in the future, Tucker's connection to Everett will continue to grow.

"His emergency surgery was performed by the same physician (Dr. Andrew Cappuccino) who did my back surgery," added Tucker. "I take some comfort in knowing that he is in good hands."

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Note: Another startling coincidence to Everett's story was revealed to the media. For many years, Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. has contributed millions of dollars to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a spinal cord program affiliated with the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. Research has been developed at the center to analyze the use of "therapeutic hypothermia," a procedure that flushes the body with cold saline to protect the brain and spinal cord immediately after trauma. In essence, the body acts as an ice pack to prevent swelling and further damage.

Upon witnessing Everett's injury on television, words of advice were channeled through to the Bills by a pair of Miami Project neurosurgeons. The team's medical staff, which rode with Everett in a specially equipped ambulance, is now being credited for using the experimental treatment on the way to the hospital.

Dr. Barth Green is the president of the Miami Project. In an interview with ESPN, he praised the program he founded in 1985, with ex-Miami Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti. Buoniconti's son, Marc, who played football at the Citadel, was paralyzed in a game that same year.

"The irony here is that Ralph Wilson is one of our biggest supporters and what goes around comes around for Ralph," said Green. "His young player (who attended college at Miami) may walk now because of his philanthropy and I hope he's proud."
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About Joe Versage

As a native of upstate New York and a life-long fan of the Buffalo Bills, I have witnessed some of the greatest highs and greatest lows an NFL team can endure. But despite a gut-wrenching 4 consecutive Super Bowl defeats, I never lost faith in the Bills and was fortunate to cover them for 3 years...
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